Review: Music Theatre Wichita’s ‘Joseph’ is bright and lively

07/10/2014 2:21 PM

08/08/2014 10:34 AM

With his blond curly hair and his Scandinavian complexion, Ian Patrick Gibb may not seem to fit the image of a desert-baked Old Testament Israelite hero.

But, boy, does he have the rock star voice to power himself into the heart and soul of Music Theatre Wichita’s “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.”

Gibb has the gorgeous, emotional resonance to make “Close Every Door (To Me)” a haunting, heart-rending experience when Joseph is cast into a deep, dark prison for reasons not his fault. But he can also rock out the ending, playing around with the notes and soaring to nosebleed heights while never losing power or slipping into shriek.

And for his less emotional, more playful moments like “Any Dream Will Do” that both opens and closes the show, Gibb maintains an easy-going sophistication that delights and charms as he reaches each note with ease and precision.

Also key to this production of the pop/rock opera – crafted by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice for the story of Joseph and the Coat of Many Colors in their 1970s salad days – is longtime Wichita favorite Darcie Roberts as The Narrator. She plays a mysterious yet motherly character who opens the show, takes charge of it and guides us – and a class of 36 kids in a youth chorus – around the stage and through the ups and downs of Joseph’s eventful life, from being his father’s favorite son to being sold into slavery by his jealous brothers to becoming Pharoah’s favorite dream interpreter.

Roberts, a Broadway veteran familiar here in such roles as Gigi in “Gigi,” Eliza in “My Fair Lady” and Polly in “Crazy for You,” has a commanding, but comforting soprano that’s rich in both promise and carry-through. “Joseph/Dreamcoat” is an oratorio/opera that’s all song and no dialogue, and Roberts is called upon to launch each scene and to interact with the characters as needed. She’s like the show’s traffic cop, making sure everything runs smoothly.

Another longtime local favorite, Nicholas Saverine, plays dual roles as Jacob, Joseph’s doting and doddering daddy, and Potiphar, a prissy, elitist Egyptian who buys Joseph as a slave, recognizes his talents and turns him into his head of household. Saverine, best remembered for his exquisite and compelling performance as Jean Valjean in “Les Miserables,” goes playful and comic in these roles, hamming it up and having a blast. He gives such a different spin to each character that you’d never know it was the same guy unless you check the program.

But the scene-stealer and show-stopper is Ryan Vasquez as Pharoah, who is sort of a Middle Kingdom Elvis (well, he is The King). It’s a purposely cartoony role, and Vasquez, in a complete turnaround from his recent romantic lead roles as Tony in “West Side Story” and Lt. Cable in “South Pacific,” relishes each ridiculous flourish as he struts, preens, postures and gyrates while demanding that Joseph interpret his disturbing dreams.

Pharoah, wearing a knee-length white loin-cloth with his bare chest under a fringed, jeweled collar, is also the closest thing to a sex symbol in a show that usually shows a fair amount of skin under skimpy costumes (hey, it’s hot in Eqypt).

Co-directors/choreographers Lyndy Franklin Smith and Jeromy Smith decided to go with a more modest approach (no bare chests for men, no bare midriffs for women) to tone down the sexuality as a family-friendly gesture.

The gang of chorus guys who represent Joseph’s 11 brothers are an athletic, hilarious force of nature. The choreographers give them terrifically high-caliber, high-leaping, high-energy movements. You almost think of them as a unit rather than as individuals, although they, conveniently, have their monogram initials on the bibs of their baggy, biblical overalls (R for Reuben, B for Benjamin, etc.) to help tell them apart.

The Brothers are the comic villains, but they also provide the musical mood shifts in the show, from country to calypso to satirical French ballad to even a little rap.

The 15-piece orchestra, including music director Thomas W. Douglas at the keyboards, keeps the pace brisk, lively and bouncing right along to the “Joseph Redux” finale that virtually replays the whole show in a spirited, up-tempo, pull-out-the-stops curtain-call medley. Who would ever imagine that a biblical story could be this much infectious fun?

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